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to serve and protect

There has been an alarming increase in anti-Asian violence in our country. It seems that every day we learn of a new incident in which a person of Asian descent—often an older men or woman—was viciously attacked and told he or she does not “belong here”. This sort of violence is not new; the target and the frequency of this violence is. A generation or two ago this violence was directed toward black folk. Today it is being directed toward Asian folk.

What is common to each of these acts of violence, indeed, to every act of violence, is the wrongful use of power to oppress rather than to protect and serve the needs of others. This violates the very purpose God placed Adam into the garden. In Genesis 2 we read God’s purpose:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Genesis 2:15 ESV

This seems rather straightforward. Adam was placed into the garden to take care of the garden. Eve would later be created to engage in that work alongside him as his equal. The word translated “to work” has the idea of working for it. Adam was to serve the garden. To “keep” the garden means to guard or watch over or protect the garden. To use the phrase made popular by the Los Angeles Police Department, Adam’s role was to serve and protect.

Eden was a perfect place. There was no sin in the world when Adam and Eve were placed there for the work God gave them to do. There were no storms that threatened to harm or destroy. There were no roving bands of enemies who threatened to overrun God’s garden. There was no sickness or disease; no pandemics were even possible. God placed Adam and his wife into that garden to serve the garden and to watch over it, to protect it, but protect it from what? The serpent was present, yet Adam was given dominion over all other creatures in the garden—which means Adam had authority over the serpent. While the serpent was evil, having been empowered in some way by the enemy of God, the serpent was not the real danger. The serpent could not act unless permission were granted to it. The real danger in the garden was not the serpent, but Adam. Only Adam could bring death and destruction and ruin into God’s good world. Eve was deceived, but Adam willfully and deliberately and consciously chose to rebel against God and thus brought death and destruction and ruin into the world God had declared was very good. Rather than use his power and authority for its intended purpose, Adam used it to bring harm.

We see this misuse of power on full display in Genesis 6. In a strange and long-debated text we see power being used for selfish purposes rather than to serve and protect the world and its inhabitants.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.

Genesis 6:1–2 ESV

Some believe these were fallen angels who took human women as wives. Others claim these were powerful kings or men. Others believe this was a mixing of godly and ungodly family lines. The latter of these is untenable for it is clear from anyone’s family tree that godliness is not inherited (and for exegetical reasons). The best solution is likely that we combine the first two; the “sons of God” were great and powerful men who gave themselves over to demonic influence and used their power to oppress by taking any woman(-en) they saw fit. Thus they were powerful men driven by lust rather than by a desire to serve and protect. God’s response was swift and fierce:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”

Genesis 6:5–8, 13 ESV

The result of this incredible abuse of power was the flood that destroyed all but eight people. In God’s mercy he saved Noah and his wife and their three sons and their wives. In his divine justice he brought judgment for this: the abuse of power. The root of the evil of abusing power is that abusing power is the spirit of antichrist. It is contrary to the very nature of God. The apostle Paul indicated this in his letter to the Philippians when he told them they must have the mind of Christ, that they must think and act—and love—like Christ in that Jesus, though he was God in every way, did not cling to his rights and privileges as God, which of course includes the infinite power that is God’s, but instead chose to embrace suffering and death that he might protect his people and save them from sin and death. Whereas the first Adam was the only real danger in the garden, the second Adam was the only real protection from danger in that very different garden where he was arrested.

In today’s latest version of anti-Asian violence a man brutally attacked an elderly Asian woman right outside the open door of a business. In the video another man watches, but does nothing to intervene. The video ends with yet another man walking over to the door as this woman lay on the sidewalk, helpless, and simply closes the door. All three of these men failed to serve and protect, and thus furthered the violence in this world.

The flood was God’s response to violence and evil in the world, yet it came after God said this:

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:3 ESV

This 120 years is not a proclamation of the ideal human lifespan. God warns that judgment in the form of the flood would come in 120 years. Why God would delay judgment for so long is beyond my ability to comprehend, yet it is clear that God’s offering of mercy and forgiveness has always been a true offer to any who would repent and believe. He gave the world 120 years to do this.

As we are confronted with injustice and violence and corruption in the world, we must speak prophetically to the culture, calling men and women to faith and repentance. We must intervene as we are able, fulfilling our God-given role to serve and protect. We must continually remember that this world belongs to God, and evil has an expiration date. One day the Second Adam will return to his world and will once and for all end all evil and suffering. This is what Holy Week is about. The Lord took on human form that he might suffer and die, and on that Easter morning rise from the dead and thus conquer sin and death. It is only a matter of time before his victory is total.